Reporter: State Department official raps Pentagon treatment of Manning as “counterproductive and stupid”

Laura Rozen
March 11, 2011

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley harshly criticized the Pentagon's treatment of WikiLeaks suspect Private First Class Bradley Manning as "ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid" at a Boston-area university forum yesterday, according to a BBC journalist who attended the event.

"I just heard an extraordinary remark from State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley," veteran BBC reporter Philippa Thomas, currently a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, wrote at her blog.

Crowley was speaking on the topic of new media and foreign policy at an event organized by MIT's Center for Future Civic Media, when a person in the small audience asked him about WikiLeaks and the U.S. treatment of PFC  Bradley Manning.

"Crowley didn't stop to think," Thomas wrote. "What's being done to Bradley Manning by my colleagues at the Department of Defense 'is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.' "

"Nonetheless, Bradley Manning is in the right place," Thomas cited Crowley, adding: "And he went on lengthening his answer, explaining why in Washington's view, 'there is sometimes a need for secrets....for diplomatic progress to be made.' But still, he'd said it. And the fact that he felt strongly enough to say it seems to me an extraordinary insight into the tensions within the administration over WikiLeaks."

"I spent 26 years in the Air Force. What is happening to Manning is ridiculous, counterproductive and stupid, and I don't know why the DoD is doing it," Ethan Zuckerman, another person who attended the MIT talk, cited Crowley. "Nevertheless, Manning is in the right place."

Crowley, a former Pentagon spokesman during the Clinton administration who retired with the rank of colonel from his 26-year Air Force career, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell--who has vigorously defended Quantico's treatment of Manning including ordering him held naked for several nights--declined to comment, saying it wasn't "appropriate" for him to offer comment "on the statement or actions of another department of our own government."

President Barack Obama, asked about the reported comments at his Friday news conference, stayed neutral.

"With respect to Private Manning, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken, in terms of his confinement, are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards," Obama said Friday. "They assured me that they are. I can't go into details about some of their concerns. Some of this has to do with Private Manning's safety as well."

Separately, Manning's father Brian Manning, a former U.S. serviceman, criticized the Pentagon's treatment of his son as "shocking" in an interview this week with PBS's Frontline, Wired's Kim Zetter reports:

<p style="padding:0 0px 1em; font-style:italic;">Brian Manning broke his silence to a PBS Frontline correspondent this week after the U.S. Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Virginia, where his 23-year-old son is being held, stripped the soldier of his clothing and forced him to stand at attention in the nude and sleep naked. Manning's defense attorney has called the brig's move "inexcusable" and "degrading treatment."</p> <p style="padding:0 0px 1em; font-style:italic;">"This is someone who has not gone to trial or been convicted of anything," Brian Manning told Frontline. "They worry about people down in a base in Cuba, but here they are, have someone on our own soil, under their own control, and they're treating him this way…. It's shocking enough that I would come out of our silence as a family and say … you've crossed a line. This is wrong."</p>

Manning himself for the first time publicly protested his treatment in an 11-page letter released by his lawyer, David Coombs this week, the Guardian reports:

In an 11-page legal letter released by his lawyer, David Coombs, Manning sets out in his own words how he has been "left to languish under the unduly harsh conditions of max [security] custody" ever since he was brought from Kuwait to the military brig of Quantico marine base in Virginia in July last year. He describes how he was put on suicide watch in January, how he is currently being stripped naked every night, and how he is in general terms being subjected to what he calls "unlawful pre-trial punishment."

(AP Photo.)